Andrew kicks for home

Owen Slot describes how silence greeted Wasps' golden boy: Rugby union: Wasps' departing fly-half rehearses his exit lines as he prepares for the new challenge of Newcastle
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The Independent Online
ROB ANDREW'S bizarre life in the transfer zone brought him yesterday for the first time before his home fans. Playing for one club, paid by another, it was an almost silent Wasps crowd that greeted him when he ran on to the pitch that has been his back garden for 10 years until now; but for only four months more.

He more or less won them over with a fine kicking display, a crucial contribution to Wasps' 38-16 victory over Saracens, but when he made a rare mistake, one fan yelled: "You don't get pounds 750,000 for that, Rob." Even the Wasps' crowd will not forgive a faulty professional.

It brought an end to an extraordinary week. On Wednesday the deal was confirmed and on Thursday morning it was still a well-kept secret. Stephen Douglas and Ross Wilkinson, the captain and vice-captain of Newcastle RFC, were invited to an unveiling of their new development director and they stood in a suite at St James' Park speculating on who was going to come through the door. Andrew was the favourite, Shelford, Rowell, Cooke and Uttley the outsiders. At 11am, Andrew arrived.

That night his new club's players arrived for training as usual. Usual in that the extra- ordinary has now become the norm. "Everyone was trying to keep their feet on the ground," Wilkinson said, explaining that the excitement was accompanied by trepidation. More recruits are to follow Andrew to the club and the present players' team places are clearly at risk, none more so than Richard Cramb, the former Scottish international who is at present keeping warm the stand-off position that Andrew will surely occupy.

"The lads were wondering what the hell was going to happen," Wilkinson said. "I just told them that we're in the driving seat. We've got the positions at the moment and we've got to show that we deserve them."

At roughly the same time, Andrew was arriving for training at Wasps where the enormity of his loss to the team, once his defection is complete in January, was cushioned by sentiments of goodwill and a lot of team-mates swearing that, really, they'd always been Newcastle supporters and would be available for contract negotiations in the bar afterwards.

Not everyone found it so amusing. "He's left a hole in the team and a hole in our marketing," said Malcolm Sinclair, the club's chief executive. Andrew's departure, it is clear, will do nothing for The Fly-Half Club, Wasps' initiative to attract corporate interest which has a full-page picture of him on the inside cover of its glossy brochure. What greater blow could be inflicted on The Fly-Half Club than the loss of the club's fly-half? "What have the marketing people got after Rob?" Sinclair said. "Nick Popplewell, Damian Hopley and Lawrence Dallaglio I suppose."

So yesterday afternoon, when the talking was finally over, it was down to Andrew to show that it had all been worthwhile. His start was pretty standard stuff - first touch, big kick - but it was with his place kicking that he looked a million dollars. Five out of seven of his kicks went through the uprights, two of them from the touchline, and one of the misses bounced back off the posts.

If Andrew really is looking to open Sir John Hall's chequebook in north London - and Wasps' players are the most obvious targets since he knows them so well - then on yesterday's evidence the contracts should immediately be drawn up with the names of Ian Dunston and Jon Ufton on them. Dunston, the prop, punched huge holes in the Saracens defence while Ufton made his mark with two huge dropped goals and a crunching cover tackle to stop a certain try three yards out.

The second of Ufton's dropped goals came as something of a godsend to Wasps, who had managed to let slip a 10-point lead in the second half. Their advantage had been built through Andrew's kicking and a try by Peter Scrivener, peeling off the back of a scrum in the 12th minute. The star for Saracens was Tony Diprose - well worth a contract - though Andy Tunningley scored all Saracens' points, his try coming when a kicked-through ball sat up perfectly for him to run through and touch down, thereby levelling the points.

It was at this stage that Wasps really got going. Ufton kicked his second dropped goal and Damian Hopley, Buster White and Dean Ryan all scored tries in the left-hand corner. Andrew's minor part in this revival was two appalling passes. But then at Wasps he is, officially, an amateur player. How different it all will be.

Wasps: J Ufton; P Hopley, D Hopley, A James, S Roiser; R Andrew, S Bates; N Popplewell, K Dunn, I Dunston, M Greenwood, D Ryan (capt), L Dallaglio, M White, P Scrivener.

Saracens: A Tunningley; P Harries, J Buckton, S Ravenscroft, P Butler; A Lee, B Davies (capt); G Holmes, G Botterman, S Wilson, M Langley, M Burrow, A Metcalfe, R Hill, A Diprose.

Referee: G Borreani (France).

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